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There’s something mildly comforting watching the Gophers play against a team that we all know is trying desperately to throw away the final chance it has to lock down its first NCAA Tournament bid in school history. Tonight it wasn’t Minnesota on the verge of throwing away its season, disappointing its fans and offering false hope. No, tonight that responsibility was squarely on the shoulders of the Northwestern Wildcats. We all knew the Gophers season was essentially over. The disappointment was noted and we’d  moved on. All we had left was the possibility of ruining someone else’s season and bringing another fan base to our level. Let’s face it, schadenfreude is second nature to us.

The Gophers, instead, were the ones who played the role of spoiler and had nothing to lose except the possibility of missing out on the NIT. As the minutes dwindled down it felt less like Minnesota was pressing and committing the same mistakes they’ve made down the stretch in heart-wrenching losses this season and instead playing loose and with much less inhibition. They sensed that Northwestern was the team pressing and over-compensating on the court, leading to missed opportunities and mistakes when it mattered most. It was a good feeling to know that the onus wasn’t on Minnesota to execute but, rather, the Wildcats. We need to play cursed teams more often.

Northwestern threw a wrench into Minnesota’s plans switching to the hated 1-3-1 zone midway through the first half, taking them out of their comfort zone and taking the lead heading into the half. Somehow the Gophers figured out how to break the zone enough that the Wildcats went back to the man-to-man defense, which opened up the court a bit more. Why Northwestern ever went away from the 1-3-1 is dumbfounding and, even though the Gophers had partial luck  success against it for a short period of time, they were confused for the most part. Down the stretch, though, Northwestern threw away multiple chances to put the game away, missing close shots in the paint and turning the ball over. Overtime was more of the same, with the Gophers executing at the free throw line, hitting their shots and putting the game out of reach.

The most encouraging aspect of the game was the utter domination of Andre Hollis, who scored a game/career-high 25 points on 10-17 shooting, including 5-10 from deep. Even more encouraging was the fact that he wanted the ball in crunch time and executed when he got the chance. He tied the game up late in regulation and was given the final shot shortly after, which he barely missed. Here we had a true freshman taking control of the game, demanding the ball and executing when it mattered most. If tonight was any indication, then we certainly have something positive to look forward to with Dre Hollins. Julian Welch hit some clutch three pointers down the stretch as well and Elliott Eliason showed some fire, grabbing 10 rebounds, six of which were offensive.

With the win the Gophers essentially played themselves into the NIT and killed Northwestern’s hopes for an at-large bid. With senior John Shurna leaving after the season,  Northwestern will be hard pressed to put themselves in the running for another tournament bid in the near future. The curse continues.

The Gophers move on to face Michigan, who they actually match up with pretty well, tomorrow at 5:30 CT.

 

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